Usually, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have to pass a bill for it to become law.
However, under certain circumstances a bill can be passed without the agreement of the Lords. Such circumstances are set out in the Parliament Act 1911, which was updated by the Parliament Act 1949. The Parliament Acts mean that if the Commons pass a bill and the Lords reject it, but the same bill is again passed by the Commons in the following session, then it can become law without the agreement of the Lords so long as:
- the bill is exactly the same as the one passed by the Commons the first time, unless the passage of time means some small changes are needed (the Speaker has to approve these) or the Lords made some changes that need to be incorporated;
- 12 months have passed since the bill had its second reading in the Commons in the first session and the date on which it receives its third reading in the Commons in the following session; and
- it is sent to the Lords (on both the first and second occasion) at least one month before the end of the session.
In practice this means that the Lords can delay a bill for approximately 13 months (from when the bill initially received its second reading in Commons) before the Parliament Acts would enable a bill to be passed without their consent. In reality this is very rare. The last Act to be passed in this way was the Hunting Act 2004.
The Parliament Acts can’t be used for the following:
- bills that start in the Lords
- bills that would make a Parliament longer than five years
- Private bills (bills requested by local authorities or other outside bodies to change the law in their area or as it affects them)
- delegated legislation (changes to the law made under powers granted by an existing Act of Parliament); delegated legislation rejected by the Lords can’t have effect, even if the Commons have approved it; historically, the Lords has rarely used the power to reject delegated legislation